Historically, ethnic minorities have faced some of the worst job
conditions. The United States
has made progress in reducing on-the-job injuries, but studies
indicate that disparities still exist.
Hispanic immigrant and African American men work in jobs with the
highest risk of injury, according to a new study of workplace injuries
‘Men aged 18 to 64 who are Hispanic immigrants have the highest average workplace injury rate, followed by African American men, and United States-born Hispanic men, white men, and Asian Americans.’
"We found that their risk was higher even when we accounted for
education and other demographic characteristics," said lead author Seth
Seabury, director of the Keck-Schaeffer Initiative for Population Health
at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics and Keck
School of Medicine of USC. "Disparities in economic opportunities for
minorities lead them to take more hazardous jobs that raise their risk
of injury and disability."
For the study published in the February edition of Health Affairs
USC researchers found that men ages 18 to 64 who are Hispanic
immigrants have the highest average workplace injury rate at 13.7 per
1,000 workers, followed by African American men (more than 12), and
U.S.-born Hispanic men (nearly 12), white men (11.8), and Asian
Americans (nearly 10). Other ethnicities have a rate of around 11 per
The researchers from USC Schaeffer Center, the Keck School of
Medicine at USC and Boston University analyzed two sets of data that had
similar demographic characteristics. One set, from the U.S. Census
Bureau's American Community Survey from 2006 to 2013, included 11.6
million respondents. The other, the Survey of Income and Program
Participation by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics for years 1996,
2001, 2004 and 2008, included 198,000 respondents.
More injuries, more disability
A higher expected workplace injury rate is linked to an elevated
risk of disability, but especially so for older workers ages 50 to 64,
the researchers found. African Americans in this age bracket have a 4.4% rate of work-related disability, followed by foreign-born
Hispanics (4.2%); Asian Americans (4%) and U.S.-born
Older whites have the lowest disability rate - about 2.5%.
The researchers did not identify the underlying causes of the
disparities, but discrimination has been a factor in poor worker safety
throughout history. The study noted, for example, that a researcher, J.
William Lloyd, more than 40 years ago found steel workers who were black
were assigned to work the top-side of the coke ovens, and were
consequently exposed to high levels of cancer-causing emissions.
Seabury, who is also an associate professor of
ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, said, "Minority workers experience worse
The researchers said that, because they focused on workplace
injuries for this study, they may have fallen short of capturing the
full extent to which working conditions can hurt the health of minority
and immigrant workers.
Bias in the workplace
The researchers listed possible factors that may contribute to
disparities in work-related injuries, such as a bias in assigning
minority workers to the riskiest tasks, or discrimination in hiring and
"Based on our findings, policy makers and regulators may need to
review whether employers are systematically assigning people of
different races and ethnicities different jobs or job tasks according to
their risk," the researchers wrote.
Investing more in lowering injury risk is expensive, and it could
lead employers to lower wages or reduce job opportunities, the
"Care needs to be taken to ensure that efforts to make workplaces
safer do not at the same time reduce economic opportunities for
vulnerable populations," they wrote. "The issues raised here will only
become more salient and politically charged as the U.S. population
continues to become more diverse."